If there's anyone who lives and breathes the entertainment business, it's Lisbeth Barron, a 36-year-old financial whiz who's among a top group of workaholic investment bankers on Wall Street devoted to making even the most impossible deals happen.
She is among a rather exclusive group of less than 20 senior bankers on Wall Street whose expertise and savvy can have great influence on significant transactions in the media business.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 29, 1997 Home Edition Business Part D Page 2 Financial Desk 2 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Lisbeth Barron, Lorne Michaels--Investment banker Lisbeth Barron, newly appointed senior managing director in the media and entertainment group at Bear, Stearns & Co., is 34. Her age was incorrect in a story published Tuesday. Also, Lorne Michaels' name was misspelled in that story.
"She combines brains and sheer tenacity, and sometimes when the ship should sink, she's still paddling," says former Simon & Schuster chief Richard Snyder, noting that Barron "paddled us back to the surface" after a deal by Snyder and a group of investors to acquire Golden Books fell apart twice before finally closing last May.
Barron, a native New Yorker for whom a 90-hour workweek is not unusual, landed a job last week as a senior managing director in the media and entertainment corporate finance group at Bear, Stearns & Co.
"I told Bear Stearns, where Lis goes, I go," says Snyder.
Sandy Climan, executive vice president and president of international business development at Universal Studios, who has worked with Barron since the start of her career, says, "Success in the entertainment industry is not solely correlated to financial engineering."
Investment bankers "who reach beyond mere financial data to truly understand the complex nature of creating value from intellectual-property-driven businesses are few and far between," Climan says. "They are worth their weight in gold to the companies they advise, to Wall Street and to the investment community at large."
Having spent eight years as a media and entertainment securities analyst, the last five at S.G. Warburg & Co., Barron made the move to the investment banker side when she joined Swiss Bank in mid-1994 to run its U.S. and Latin American media corporate finance group. (Swiss Bank later acquired Warburg.)
Her move to Bear Stearns comes at a particularly competitive time in the world of investment banking.
Over the last decade, a number of firms, such as Bear Stearns, Allen & Co., Wasserstein Perella & Co., Greenhill & Co. and Furman Selz made a big push into entertainment and have built a significant presence on Wall Street, gaining market share on some of the more established houses such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and First Boston.
And some big firms--including Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan, which backed last year's sale of MGM--are just now entering the investment side of the business.
Barron believes that the opportunities for a relatively new player like Bear Stearns, one of Wall Street's most profitable full-service firms, with entertainment clients that include Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom and Cablevision, are limitless.
"My general belief is that typically in the 1990s, there's very little loyalty between corporations in the industry and Wall Street advisory firms," says Barron. "That leaves the door open for someone to develop strong client relationships, if you're fluent in many products and are with a firm that can aggressively execute whatever transactions are at hand."
Not unlike the old studio star system, where actors were under contract to a movie company for a number of years, Wall Street and Hollywood were historically clubby in the 1970s and '80s, when corporations had "house" advisors, Barron says. The business has changed from being "loyalty-driven to transaction-driven," she explains, so that today, "there are no longer exclusive club arrangements."
Although Wall Street securities analysts make stock recommendations and produce financial forecasts for investors, investment bankers like Barron play an advisory role to the top managements of media companies on mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, the sale of non-core assets, private and public offerings and equity and debt underwritings.
They make as much or more money than some of the top executives in Hollywood.
Although this is a subject Barron naturally refuses to touch, financial sources say a junior banker can pull in several hundred thousand a year and a senior banker can earn millions. About 10% of an investment banker's compensation is straight salary and 90% is discretionary based on performance.
The amount is determined not only by how much financial business that banker brings in, but on how well he or she has helped build the franchise of the firm over the course of a given year.
In her new job, Barron will be working with a group of 20 bankers in Bear Stearns' media and entertainment group, led by Alan Mnuchin and formed about nine years ago. Her areas of focus will include transactions for film and TV programmers, cable companies, broadcasters, publishers and recorded-music entities.